Friday, April 11, 2008

Benedict to the UN: In Defense of Natural Law

Russell Shaw writes at InsideCatholic:
December 10, 1948: Keep your eye on that date. It's likely to have an important symbolic role in Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the United Nations and the United States.

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On December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly -- meeting in Paris -- voted 48 for, 0 against, and 8 abstaining to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The abstainers, for those who may have forgotten, were the states of the Soviet bloc, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.

Nearing its 60th anniversary, the human rights declaration is Benedict's Exhibit A in making his case for universal moral standards as the necessary basis of world peace and justice. When circumstances permit, he links that idea to his project for the revival of natural law.

The pope seems likely again to make his argument for what he calls "common moral law" in the major address he will deliver April 18 to the UN General Assembly in New York. But it will also come as no surprise if he brings up the subject at other stops during his April 15-20 visit to Washington and New York.

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Benedict made it a point to link the idea of common moral law to the United States, declaring it to be "enshrined in its founding documents." He urged that it remain a central principle guiding U.S. policy in today's world.

This, however, is not an easy sell at a time when natural law has widely fallen out of favor in academia -- not only secular academia, but often Catholic academia as well -- with various versions of positivism and utilitarianism replacing it. This circumstance provided the background for Benedict's famous warning against the "dictatorship of relativism" when he spoke to the cardinals on the eve of his election as pope three years ago. Since then, it has continued to inform much that he's said and done.


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